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WHO urges countries to take urgent steps to reduce sodium intake by 2025

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged its member countries to take immediate steps to reduce sodium consumption in order to meet the global target of reducing sodium consumption by 30% by 2025.

In its first report on sodium intake report released recently, the  United Nations Health Agency said that according to various estimates, the global average salt intake is about 10.8 grams per day, more than double the WHO recommendation of fewer than 5 grams of salt per day (one teaspoon).

Noting that eating too much salt is the leading cause of diet and nutrition-related deaths, the UN Health Agency stated that more evidence is emerging documenting links between high sodium intake and not only increasing the risk of developing non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease but also increasing the risk of other health conditions such as gastric cancer, obesity, osteoporosis, and kidney disease.

The report shows that only 3% of the world’s population is protected by mandatory sodium reduction policies and 73% of WHO Member States lack the full range of implementation of such policies.

“Unhealthy diets are a leading cause of death and disease globally, and excessive sodium intake is one of the main culprits,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“This report shows that most countries are yet to adopt any mandatory sodium reduction policies, leaving their people at risk of heart attack, stroke, and other health problems,”  he added.

“WHO calls on all countries to implement the ‘Best Buys’ for sodium reduction, and on manufacturers to implement the WHO benchmarks for sodium content in food,” he further added.

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Stressing that implementing highly cost-effective sodium reduction policies could save an estimated seven million lives globally by 2030, the report underlined that salt reduction is an essential component of action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal target of reducing deaths from non-communicable diseases.

However, according to available information, only nine countries (Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Uruguay) have a comprehensive package of recommended policies to reduce sodium intake in place, the report noted.

“This important report demonstrates that countries must work urgently to implement ambitious, mandatory, government-led sodium reduction policies to meet the global target of reducing salt consumption by 2025,” President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, a not-for-profit organisation working with countries to prevent 100 million deaths from cardiovascular disease over three decades, Dr Tom Frieden, said.

Stressing that there are proven measures governments can implement and important innovations, such as low sodium salts, Dr Frieden added, “The world needs action, and now, or many more people will experience disabling or deadly, but preventable heart attacks and strokes.”

It may be recalled that the WHO issued a set of global benchmarks for sodium levels in more than 60 food categories that will help countries reduce sodium contents in foods to improve diets and save lives in May 2021 as a guide both for countries and industries to reduce the sodium content in different categories of processed foods because, around the world, consumption of processed food is a rapidly increasing source of sodium.

The Benchmarks target a wide range of processed and packaged food products that contribute significantly to overly salty diets. Processed and packaged bread, savoury snacks, meat products, and cheese were among the high-sodium food product categories identified at the time for the new global benchmarks.

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